FSC - Forest Stewardship Council


The use of wood in musical instruments is fundamental to Lutherie. It is increasingly clear, however, that not all woods are gathered responsibly. The choice of Brazilian Rosewood, for example, needs to consider the potential harm to the rainforests of its origin and consequently: the society as a whole. Brazilian Rosewood fetches a premium as a tonewood – the financial incentive to use it, to build with it and to sell it are great. Few people consider the harm to society. The same is true of tortoiseshell and elephant ivory.

Forests are disappearing from the planet at an alarming rate. For example 50 years ago, rainforests used to cover approximately 14% of the Earth’s land surface. Currently, rainforest coverage has dropped to approximately 2%, yet still houses as many as 30 million species of plants and animals. At the current rate of deforestation, scientists estimate that nearly all tropical rainforest ecosystems will be destroyed in the next 30 years. This means that forests are being destroyed at the equivalent of 92 acres per minute or 46 million acres per year. As the oldest, richest and most productive ecosystems on earth, the rainforest’s destruction could have devastating effects on a local, regional and global level. Rainforests are just one example of poor forestry management with global implications – there are many others. There are also examples of good forestry management. These include plantation-grown rosewood in India. The forest plantations in this example are FSC certified.

In 1996 Gibson Guitars became the 1st in the industry to begin building some of its instruments using wood certified as ‘sustainably harvested’ by FSC. By 2006 Gibson purchased better than 42% of the wood for Gibson USA electric guitars from FSC certified sources. Gibson expects to increase that to 80% by 2012. Gibson, Taylor, Fender, Martin, Guild, Walden, Yamaha, Luthiers Mercantile, Pacific Rim Tonewoods, North American Wood Products and Allied Lutherie have since signed on as partners with The Music Wood Coalition. The MWC is a project built by the non-profit: Greenpeace. The coalition is working to protect threatened forest habitats and safeguard the future of trees critical to instrument manufacturing.

The Music Wood Coalition’s initial focus is to halt the aggressive deforestation in Southern Alaska. This is the primary source for Sitka Spruce – the guitar top wood. The MWC is in talks with Sealaska Timber Corporation (one of the biggest logging operations in Alaska) to develop FSC certification for 190,000 acres of the company’s privately owned Southern Alaskan timberland. In the end, it is potentially a Win-Win-Win for the instrument builders, the logging industry (to protect their long-term income stream) and for the environment.

Forestry Management is the Issue

FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) is an independent, non-governmental, not-for-profit organization established to promote the responsible management of the world’s forests. It sets standards and uses trademark assurance and accreditation services for companies and organizations interested in responsible forestry.

Products carrying the FSC label are independently certified to help assure consumers that the lumber products come from forests that are managed to meet the social, economic and ecological needs of present and future generations. FSC has offices in more than 45 countries.

Primary forests are under development pressure throughout the world. Most of the remaining natural forests suffer from illegal exploitation, poor management and conversion to other land uses (clear-cutting for the lumber, then agricultural use). This usually results in severe degradation or complete destruction of the forests. It is for these reasons that the FSC was established in 1993.

In simple terms: natural forests are not viewed as valuable to society. Certainly, they are viewed as less valuable than other immediate needs for the land. These issues are both economic and social. The extraordinary social and ecological value of forests in comparison to other land uses is often not considered.

FSC standards and certification help ensure that these forests maintain the values and benefits they provide to society. FSC enables responsible forest managers to capture more value from their forests, allowing them to compete with pressures from other land uses and the artificially low prices caused by predatory and illegal logging. Demand for forest products around the world will accelerate. Wherever and whenever decisions are taken to manage forests, FSC attempts to influence and convince forest managers to implement responsible social and environmental practices, including in primary natural forests.

The concept is simple: Forest products are needed. They are available within reasonable and responsible forest management. It is FSC’s mission to help ensure that economic, social and environmental concerns are taken into account whenever forests are managed.


The Forest Stewardship Council is an international association of members consisting of a diverse group of representatives from environmental and social groups, the timber trade and the forestry profession, indigenous people’s organizations, responsible corporations, community forestry groups and forest product certification organizations from around the world.

FSC has a unique governance structure that is built upon the principles of participation, democracy and equity.

There are 3 levels of decision-making bodies within the FSC:

  1. The General Assembly of FSC Members is the highest decision-making body and is made up of the 3 membership chambers. The purpose of the chamber structure is to maintain the balance of voting power between differing interests without limiting the number of members:
    • Environmental
    • Social
    • Economic
  2. The Board of Directors is accountable to the FSC members. It is made up of 9 individuals who are elected from each of the chambers for a 3-year term.
  3. The Executive Director, with the support of a multicultural professional team at the FSC International Center, runs the FSC on a day-to-day basis.

How FSC Policies and Standards are Developed

To earn FSC certification and the right to use the FSC label, an organization must first adapt its management and operations to conform to all applicable FSC requirements. What the FSC rules prescribe is implemented in forests around the world. This is how FSC makes a positive impact.

At the FSC International Center, a team of experts facilitates the development, review and improvement of FSC rules and procedures.

FSC’s standards are the highest social and environmental requirements in the forestry sector and they have proven to work across continents, forest types, sizes and ownership. The FSC standards-setting process is transparent, democratic and inclusive with many opportunities for the interested public to participate. It is this process that has allowed FSC to become an important and recognized forum where innovative solutions are possible with the support of all stakeholder groups interested in forestry issues. FSC is the only certification system in forestry recognized by ISEAL to follow best practice in standard setting.

FSC Principles and Criteria

The FSC Principles and Criteria describe how the forests have to be managed to meet the social, economic, ecological, cultural and spiritual needs of present and future generations. They include managerial aspects as well as environmental and social requirements.

There are 10 principles and 56 criteria that form the basis for all FSC forest management standards. Based on these 10 principles, the FSC has developed further rules (called policies or standards) that further define and explain certain requirements stipulated in the 10 principles.

Here is a summary of some of the points the FSC Principles and Criteria require. Many of the points listed below will appear almost basic – but in many places, even these basic requirements are not fulfilled. This is where FSC can have the biggest positive impact.

  • Prohibit conversion of forests or any other natural habitat
  • Respect for international workers rights
  • Prohibition of the use of hazardous chemicals
  • Respect of Human Rights with particular attention to indigenous peoples
  • No corruption – follow all applicable laws
  • Identification and appropriate management of areas that need special protection (e.g. cultural or sacred sites, habitat of endangered animals or plants)

The 10 FSC Principles

Principle 1

  • Compliance with all applicable laws and international treaties

Principle 2

  • Demonstrated and uncontested, clearly defined, long-term land tenure and use rights

Principle 3

  • Recognition and respect of indigenous peoples’ rights

Principle 4

  • Maintenance or enhancement of long-term social and economic well being of forest workers and local communities and respect of worker’s rights in compliance with International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions

Principle 5

  • Equitable use and sharing of benefits derived from the forest

Principle 6

  • Reduction of the environmental impact of logging activities and maintenance of the ecological functions and integrity of the forest

Principle 7

  • Appropriate and continuously updated management plan

Principle 8

  • Appropriate monitoring and assessment activities to assess the condition of the forest, management activities and their social and environmental impacts

Principle 9

  • Maintenance of High Conservation Value Forests (HCVFs) defined as environmental and social values that are considered to be of outstanding significance or critical importance

Principle 10

  • In addition to compliance with all of the above, plantations must contribute to reduce the pressures on and promote the restoration and conservation of natural forests.

Information compiled by Leonard Wyeth from the FSC web site and other sources.

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© 2010, Leonard Wyeth